Opinions, Column

How Trump Reveals America’s Problems

Donald Trump is a revelation, not a problem. He reveals what is wrong with America so that we can get it right.

I see many “Facebook activists” raising issue and legitimate concerns with Trump’s presidency. What is often brought up are his misogyny, “covered-up” allegations of sexual assault, chauvinism, and inflated sense of self-worth at the expense of tearing down others. This scrutiny follows Trump’s uncouth, insulting, and insensitive remarks regarding how pregnant women in the workplace are bad for business; his insults to former POWs and Gold Star families; and his racist remarks, like implying that Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t fairly judge the Trump University case because he is of Mexican descent. Ironically, these are all the reasons why I appreciate Trump’s run for president.

Trump’s campaign reveals the work that America has to do to live up to its ideals. Trump’s unscripted and unrehearsed opinions about infrastructure, economy, and immigration get at the underbelly of who and what we really are as a country, absent who we believe ourselves to be as a nation. And what we are is fractured.

If critics of Trump’s campaign spent as much time understanding how Trump came to be the Republican frontrunner as they do criticizing his campaign, they could turn Trump’s run for the White House into an opportunity to create social progress.

There is this illusion that Trump is what’s wrong with the United States. He isn’t. We are.

What makes America great is its founding ideals. The vision that this country has for its idealism is incredible. The idea that hard work begets opportunity and that fairness, freedom, and equality are available to all is what makes this country so special. And yet, if we take the time to look around, we will realize that our best effort to operate and live within our nation’s vision is not fully revealed, and hasn’t been fully actualized for quite some time, even before Trump became the Republican nominee.

The opportunity for growth and the growing frustration that people have with the opportunity gap are abundantly clear on the ground.

I traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the 2014 midterm elections to help manage the region as a field organizer for former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s political action committee. I remember very vividly the number-one concern that haunted people during that campaign: jobs, or the lack thereof. The question people in manufacturing cities often ask is, “Where are the jobs?”

This issue remains a serious concern.

Trump’s campaign responds to this question with some variation of “They are overseas” or that jobs are being taken by “illegal immigrants.” This is an answer that his supporters believe and can understand.

Living and working in Iowa and in urban communities like Detroit and southeast D.C., where communities are separated by the haves and have nots, I have experienced the unified perception that the job growth touted by the White House as a major accomplishment of the Obama administration is often understood as dishonest. People living in small towns and urban communities who are struggling economically hear about this economic growth but don’t always feel and see it happening from where they stand. From that dissonance grows fear.

Trump taps into that fear with coercion and strategy.

It’s not the fear that concerns me—it’s the lack of discernment to know where this fear is built that scares me.

It scares me to think about unemployment being linked to undocumented immigrants, if it is not first linked to jobs being sent abroad. It scares me because this false sense of reality brings people to believe that jobs would be available if not for immigrants. This misunderstanding about the U.S economy was around before this election. Trump’s campaign has brought attention to this problem, but he didn’t start it.

Jobs are scarce because there has not been the necessary effort to prepare people living in these communities to secure jobs in organizations that are not manufacturing or industrialized. This is our problem and we must fix it. But because we have not adequately addressed our economic and racial problems, which have only become more entrenched in the American consciousness, we are now dealing with its burden in human form. His name is Donald Trump.

I want Trump’s run for president to be seen as a pulse check rather than a joke. Trump’s platform and the level of support that he has garnered throughout this country are a barometer for understanding where we are and how far we have come on race, policing, the economy, and immigration. The reality is that his platform has a base. His base is rooted in something very real: fear. Fear has been a powerful force in this country. For example, Boston public schools weren’t officially declared desegregated until 1987, partly as a result of fear.

Trump’s campaign matters. It matters because his nomination brings to bear issues and feelings of resentment and fear that are often covered up and disregarded by the left as “un-American” and baseless. Yet, the uninformed opinions on race and immigration that Trump’s campaign stand for are as American, if not more American, than our founding ideals. After all, United States history has proven that our ideals do not represent who we are—they reflect our aspirations for who and what we strive to become. As a nation, we have not grown into our aspirational vision. Trump’s widespread support makes this fact obvious. This should not be underestimated.

Featured Image by John Locher / AP Photo

September 28, 2016

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